Chandy Henson’s Long Journey

It’s been quite a decade for Chandy Henson.

The Atlanta resident enlisted in the Army, served seven years as a medic, left military service and, finally, began to pursue her dozen-year-old dream of becoming a physical therapist.

Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Henson, a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Physical Therapy at Brenau University, says she wouldn’t change a thing.

“You never know what avenue God is going to take you down, but I wouldn’t trade it,” she says. “I feel like it’s made me stronger and a lot more prepared for this.”

Henson was diagnosed last September, underwent chemotherapy treatments and had a bilateral mastectomy. “I’m going through radiation now,” she told Window in early November. “I finish that up this month, actually.”

Henson spent her first semester as a doctoral student waking every day, Monday through Friday, for radiation at 7 a.m. She was in class by 7:30.

“It’s been long,” she says. “They told me the cancer was gone right before I started school, but I get a scan every three months to see if they find any cancerous cells. They did notice more, and I had a small surgery in August to remove lymph nodes that were cancerous. The next step was radiation.”

Chandy Henson waves during the White Coat Ceremony for members of the Brenau Doctor of Physical Therapy Class of 2020. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Chandy Henson waves during the White Coat Ceremony for members of the Brenau Doctor of Physical Therapy Class of 2020. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

The experience has made an advocate out of the just 29-year-old Henson. “I have a friend who was just diagnosed, and she’s only 26. They don’t recommend doing mammograms until you’re closer to 35. But I push people to get it done sooner, and do monthly breast exams on themselves.”

Henson said she found a small lump in her own breast last year but didn’t think anything of it. By the time she went to the doctor, it had grown to the size of a golf ball.

The cancer is the last in a line of struggles for Henson to overcome. She started at Georgia State University 10 years ago before going through what she calls a “rough patch.”

“I lost my Hope Scholarship and I was at a crossroads,” she says. “Do I get a job and just work? I knew I wanted to be a physical therapist, and the only way to do that was to stay in school.”

Without her scholarship, this left her options limited. So she walked into an Army recruiter’s office. Three weeks later: “I shipped off.”

She became an Army medic – equivalent to the civilian EMT – and was stationed at Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia. She later served a year in Iraq.

“I’ve always been interested in the health field,” she says. “But I got out of the military in 2015. It was an interesting experience, but I wasn’t able to do what I really wanted to do, which was always physical therapy.”

Henson credits her wife, Shandrika Henson – whom she married only months before her diagnosis and was an unwavering support through the entire process – her family, the Brenau faculty and her cohort for their support. “They have been really supportive throughout all of this, especially with me doing radiation. They’ve been a great support system.”

Today, she calls being a student in Brenau’s Department of Physical Therapy “a dream come true.”

“I didn’t realize it would be this much work, but this is something I’ve aspired to do since I was 18,” she says. “Here it is, almost 12 years later. It’s been a long journey through the military, back to college for my undergraduate degree, and then getting diagnosed with cancer. But everything is good now as far as my health. So I’m just thankful.”

Chandy Henson shakes hands with Ryan Balmes after receiving her white coat during the White Coat Ceremony for members of the Brenau Doctor of Physical Therapy Class of 2020. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

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